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What Are the Different Types of Teacher Tenure?

Academic tenure can protect teaching staff from groundless lay-offs.
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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 19 August 2014
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Teacher tenure varies by region but generally guarantees that an educator cannot be fired without just cause. Some elementary and high school teachers gain tenure after working a predetermined number of years for a school district. At the college level, instructors or professors might earn academic tenure or permanent tenure. Academic tenure guarantees promotion opportunities and protects faculty from unwarranted lay-off or sanctions. Permanent teacher tenure preserves a job for life.

The number of years an educator must work for a school district before he or she earns teacher tenure varies by region. In the United States, each school district sets requirements for teacher tenure during formal negotiations with teacher union representatives. Teachers who work in some areas might earn tenure in as little as two years after serving a probationary period.

Academic tenure might require a longer probationary period as an educator applies for promotion at a university. Generally, faculty members start off as instructors before they come under consideration for teacher tenure. Instructors commonly undergo regular performance reviews before they are re-appointed to their position as a probationary employee.

It takes eight to 10 years before university administrators make a decision on tenure in some areas. An educator typically moves up as an assistant professor and associate professor before earning the title of professor. As a professor, the educator typically has permanent tenure.

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This means a professor cannot be fired except under extraordinary circumstances. He or she enjoys job security until retirement, resignation, or death. Contracts in most areas provide exceptions to lifetime teacher tenure for incompetence or neglect of duty. A professor might also be terminated for misconduct or unethical or criminal behavior.

Typically, a teacher who has tenure is given preference over educators who are probationary employees if layoffs are necessary. This is referred to as a reduction in force prompted by declining enrollment or other factors. Some school districts opt to offer buyouts to poorly performing teachers or teachers nearing retirement age to avoid due process procedures spelled out in teacher tenure contracts.

Typical union contracts between teachers and school districts provide protections to educators who face dismissal for poor performance. They are usually entitled to a hearing before the union and school district officials, and the hearing may sometimes be held in court. Some regions eliminated tenure guarantees in contracts by tying job security to student test scores. These provisions often include rehabilitation for ineffective teachers.

The National Education Association was formed in 1887 to provide a bargaining unit for teachers. Teacher tenure was first granted to college professors in 1910, but was extended to elementary and high school teachers in the 1920s as a result of the women's suffrage movement. Before then, a teacher could be fired for getting married, becoming pregnant, or wearing pants to work.

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